Challenge of change

After a tense few days, a tentative compromise may have been reached between officials from the Communist Party of China and journalists at the progressive Southern Weekend newspaper in the standoff over censorship. Yet, the protests

that galvanised hundreds of people to demonstrate outside the Guangzhou-based weekly's headquarters presented new CPC leader Xi Jinping with his first major political crisis one that marked a rare display of public anger and the roots of which, the current settlement notwithstanding, could be less than easy to resolve.

The furore began when provincial propaganda officials intervened to alter a New Year's editorial in Southern Weekend also known as Southern Weekly that called for restraints on the party's powers. What appeared, instead, was a bland endorsement of party policy. Then, staff wrote an open letter to the propaganda department, asking that the high-ranking official responsible for the heavy-handed censorship resign. Subsequently, journalists went on strike in an expression of solidarity and, aided by the country's popular Twitter-like service, Weibo, supporters showed up calling for media freedom and an end to government censorship.

As the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported, this is the first time in years that the editorial staff of a major newspaper have openly staged a strike against government censors in China. This episode will be seen as a test of Xi's reform credentials and his crisis management skills. So far, Xi has not lived up to the hopes raised by his own oft-stated commitment to greater transparency in politics. Though the party did concede some ground to the journalists on strike by agreeing to lift certain propaganda measures, its response was, by and large, characteristic of the approach that led to the protest to begin with.

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